One of my favorite passages of scripture is 2 Corinthians 4:8-12. It immediately follows the famous “jars of clay” verse, and confirms why God would want to put a valuable treasure in an ordinary clay pot. But more on that later. First, I need to tell you why we’re here again looking at this passage. If you’ve been with the Catch for a while, you may know that this is not the first time we’ve had our Bibles open to 2 Corinthians, and I guarantee not the last. That’s because this passage is central to all we do here at the Catch; it’s what we call the New Covenant.
I’m bringing it up now because I am currently going through the New Covenant with our Vanguard group of leaders. These are your leaders who have had the vision to invest in cyberspace, our future, and who continue to be in the forefront of everything we do here at the Catch. And as we hopefully turn the corner on this pandemic, and look to them for direction, I figured it was a good time for the whole Catch community to immerse itself in some of the New Covenant teaching. For some strange reason it is overlooked by much of the church today; we consider it essential.
Keep in mind we are jumping into the middle of this passage, but there are four challenges Paul gives us in this section, and so we’re going to take them one at a time this week, and I’m going to ask you to participate in what I’m sure will be of great benefit to everyone and in particular to our Vanguard team.
Chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians begins: “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.”
The key to the New Covenant is that it is never our ministry; it is God’s. When Paul says, “since … we have this ministry …” the ministry he is referring to is the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives, as a fragrance of Christ (2:14-16), as a letter written on our hearts and read by everyone (3:2), as an unveiled reflection of the face of Jesus (3:18), and finally as an ordinary clay pot containing the presence of Christ (4:7). That’s why he can say “we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” This is the amazing playing field of the gospel — your life and mine.
And that’s why he can say, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”
The whole point of this passage is CONTRAST. The treasure of the “glory of God in the face of Christ” (4:6) in a common, breakable, ordinary clay pot, is the point of this whole arrangement. It’s not just that God is going to use us; it’s how He chooses to use us. He chooses to put the treasure of Christ up against the weakness and vulnerability of our humanity so that the contrast is the whole point. When people experience our human frailty (and we are more like them than we are different) and Christ in us, it’s obvious that the power is not coming from me.
Conversely, when we try and maintain a spiritual image commensurate with the power coming from us, we kill the message. If people walk away impressed with me, they haven’t gotten the right message. Whereas if they walk away scratching their heads over me, because they know the power couldn’t be coming from me (because they see in many ways that I am just like them), then they got the right message.
That’s where these next few verses come from. In case there’s any doubt about where the power is coming from, God does not exempt us from the ordinary difficulties in life because we are ordinary people going through ordinary life with an extraordinary presence living inside.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (8-10)
This is not about getting through hard times. It’s about empathizing with and touching people’s lives through these things because we, too, struggle, and yet the life of Christ is meeting each one of our struggles with His love, grace and power.
Whatever life throws at us, there is a corresponding answer from within, and that answer is the presence of Christ. It doesn’t always make the difficulty go away; but it gets us through it, and in the process, the sustaining “treasure” can be seen through the cracks in these ordinary jars of clay.
So this week, we’re going to all go through this together. There are four different predicaments that Paul mentions here: pressures, perplexities, persecutions and calamities. The list is by no means complete. I think he mostly wants to show us how this kind of testing that reveals the life of Christ in us can come from many different angles and that these things are common to everyone. In the first chapter of this same letter, Paul said that Christ “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (1:4). It’s the same thing here. The things we go through become opportunities for an empathetic connection with others.
So we’re going to take one challenge a day starting with today: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed,” and here’s what I’d like you to do. I’d like you to come up with an example of when this particular kind of difficulty came up in your life and you saw how God used it to help you connect with someone else.
“Hard pressed on every side,” he said. Our modern word for this is stress. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t have some level of stress in their life these days. But for every pressure from the outside, there is a corresponding pressure from within and that is why we are not crushed.
So tell us a story. Make this real. Show us where you stepped into someone else’s life and what happened. Give us an idea of what this looks like in real time. You can make a comment on our website if you want to make this public, or you can reply directly to this email and it will come to my private inbox. We have an incredible opportunity to learn from each other this week in very practical ways, but you have to take part to make it happen.